Thursday, November 26, 2009

Nerding Out on the Long Weekend - My Waiting Pile

I finished my Christmas shopping last month so with five full days off from work I've begun a nerd binge the likes of which are unheard of since... well, any time nerds have free time really. A very busy work schedule for the past two months drained the majority of my spare time while simultaneously the way I budget my entertainment purchases has created a massive to read/watch/play backlog.

My theory has generally been set aside a certain amount of money each paycheck for it and seize upon bargains when you get them. The number of bargains lately between retailers trying to undercut each other for the holiday season and a local video game store going out of business has contributed to my pile. The stack of games waiting for me to dedicate more than an hour or so to them it especially bad. Someday I'll learn to walk away when someone dangles baubles in front of me but that'll be a while.

Prose books make up the smallest stack at the moment since I'm working to collect the Eisner winning comics and I have even less time for reading than I usually do. Tender Morsels is sitting on my desk at work so I won't be finishing it this weekend (quick preview of my review based on the first two hundred pages: incredibly bleak opening but surprisingly intriguing once it starts moving). I've got Tacitus's Histories and Seutonious's The Twelve Caesars that are scratching my ancient history itch at the moment.

(On that subject I had been looking forward to seeing John Woo's Red Cliffs on the big screen this weekend since, as I've mentioned here before, I'm enjoy that period of Chinese history. Then I learned that two hours had been cut out of the film for it's American release. No thanks guys, I'll just watch that episode of The Romance of the Three Kingdoms again for that itch and wait for the uncut DVD release.)

Comics are either relatively light or soul crushingly heavy depending on how you look at it. If I just consider the simple things then there's the Criminal Omnibus, the Rocketeer Complete Collection, Neil Gaiman's Signal to Noise, and Dr. Jeckyll and Mister Hyde. I could read any of those in an hour or so but then there are the things that get eternally pushed back like Essential and Showcase volumes. There's five of those in a half read state and another half dozen that I haven't even cracked yet. Compile that with some of the DVD collections where I've only read a a handful of key runs and issues from each series and that winds up with enough unread comics to stock my own theoretical store.

The games, as I mentioned, are easily the worst offenders. New Super Mario Wii has barely been touched as I wait for co-op parters to find some time. An unopened copy of the new Prince of Persia is awaiting a new motherboard before I can even play it. When that motherboard does get here and I somehow find time to install it then it'll have to duel with S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky, Mercenaries 2, and Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer for time on my gaming system. My lap top on the other hand can play King of Dragon Pass just fine (an obscure storytelling strategy game based on the Runequest RPG that I had no idea could still be acquired until a few weeks ago). I like to play Nintendo DS games on the movie but something like Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney requires more focus than I have time for. I have a small stack of tactical games for the DS including one of the Fire Emblem games and Knights in the Nightmare. And that takes me to the Shin Megami Tensei games where I wound up buying the entire series after playing the Persona games mainly because I was scared that all of the copies would vanish again and the prices would go back up to over a hundred dollars for each of them (I've got the strategy game Devil Summoner on the DS in progress, completed Nocturne a while ago, and recently finished Digital Devil Saga 1 which leaves me with three more 60 hour games in that series to play).

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Review - The Shadow Year

The Shadow Year
by Jeffry Ford
Tied for 2009 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel

When I read Boy's Life I found that despite the fact that the concepts were overused the quality of writing made up for it. The Shadow Year is almost identical to Boy's Life except this time it lacks the interesting characterization and sense of wonder that elevated the previous World Fantasy Award winner above it's source.

Stop me if you've heard this one before. There was a small town in America where a boy on the verge of adolescence is experiencing a strange year. His family is going through hard times and he's observing the quirky neighbors around him. There's a supernaturally effective killer lurking somewhere in the town and he has knowledge of it that he is unable to share. So he along with some other children work quietly to unravel the mysteries of their town.

Well that was awfully generic so let me narrow this down more. There's a character with mental problems who is prone to strange pronouncements which appear nonsensical at first but prove to be accurate. A school yard bully whose menace is ignored by the faculty at the school is a reoccurring threat. There's a sadistic gym teacher who torments weaker children with dodgeball. And the protagonist has aspirations of being a writer.

I guess that hasn't really narrowed it down at all and that does sum up The Shadow Year well. There's no distinguishing marks, nothing that stands out. It's a bland, flavorless mush of a novel that succeeds only in being completely inoffensive. I finished reading it only a few days ago and I can barely remember it. If you were to ask me a year from now to describe the novel I'm reasonably sure I couldn't.

Part of that is the protagonist isn't interesting. He floats through the book never taking action on his own. Typically it is someone else who pulls him into the next zany scheme that will become a childhood anecdote and the rest of the time he's just running in fear from a not particularly threatening or ominous man. That's not the kind of behavior that results in a protagonist you can care about.

That's a major failing since The Shadow Year is, as I implied, just some childhood anecdotes strung together and they're not very interesting ones. It's almost all completely mundane average things. The experiences may be universal but if they're not told in an engrossing way then I could get the same experience sitting around the dinner table with family at Thanksgiving.

While I prefer to avoid spoilers I also have to add that Ford created one of the most abrupt and pointless denounments I've encountered outside of Neil Stephenson. What little life the plot has is undercut by a conclusion that just falls flat.

The Shadow Year has a plot that's identical to dozens of other books and while Ford doesn't manage to make an awful book he goes one worse and makes a boring one. It's competently done but when you're telling the same story as a dozen other people then competent doesn't cut it.